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Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Emerging Military Caste

The Sunday Leader 03/07/2011

Since the end of the War against Terrorism a greater part of our society has been treating the armed forces with a sense of awe and veneration. The media drummed up the concept of Ranaviru (war heroes) and indeed they deserved the respect of the nation, particularly those poor boys – unknown, unwept and unsung – who perished in the jungles after suffering much privation.

Soldiers of victorious armies of all countries are honoured in many ways but after some time, as the song goes: they just fade away.

Sri Lanka’s war heroes, it appears, are not going that way but will stay for quite a long time.

The practice in foreign countries has been that large armies are demobilised after the war, leaving them with praises, medals and a deep sense of frustration and disappointment.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces are by and large intact while many others have taken the wrong path as many soldiers out of uniform elsewhere committing petty or ghastly crimes.

The more we are together…

Two years after the end of the 30-year old conflict much of the armed forces appear to be intact. Probably this is because although victory over terrorism has been proclaimed it is not really so. Some of the hardcore LTTErs are still held in custody without being charged in courts and there is an intense presence of the military in Jaffna and its environs. Meanwhile the terrorists and their fellow travelers are getting much inspiration and generating hope from Western political leaders who are accusing the Sri Lankan government of war crimes.

However, there appears to be a great proportion of the armed forces kicking their heels in barracks. In this context, the Sinhala saying: Alasayage molaya Yakkage Kammolaya vennawa (the brain of the idler manifests itself as a factory of the devil) is apt.

Fascism and Rugby

A classic instance that could match even the worst act of fascism has been the arrest of a young rugby player from Kandy Sports Club, Nuwan Hettiaratchi by the Sri Lanka Navy. This player is supposed to have been a member of the Navy Sports Club but had registered with the Kandy Sports Club as well. The young man has been taken into custody by the Navy and was incarcerated in the Navy Welisara Camp on the grounds that he had signed a contract to play for the Navy Sports Club. Now the Kandy Sports Club is threatening to pull out of the inter-club rugby tournament over the arrest of Hettiaratchi whom they say is a member of their Club.
We are not concerned about the legality of the contracts signed by the player with whatever club but for the Navy to arrest him and keep him under custody for attempting to play for another club smacks of a fascistic act by a government institution. Surely this is a civil matter and a civil case could have been filed against the player instead of an arrest by an armed force. Being arrested by the all powerful Navy for wanting to play for the club of one’s choice is high comedy. It justifies Groucho Marx’s observation: Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.

Service personnel as dons

The decision to enforce compulsory ‘leadership training’ to undergraduates in camps of the army and police is another bull in a china shop act of the government. Whether it is a decision of the Minister of Higher Education or the Defence Ministry is not clear but it cannot be the decision of an educated person. To bring in the cream of educated youth who had cleared almost impossible barriers under military officers for leadership training is a gross insult to intelligence.

It is admitted that even in countries like the United States, the military develops into a  military caste and consider them as being superior to civilians. Ayn Rand  the well known American philosopher has compared the modern day military technocrat to Attila the Hun who believes he can create reality by pressing a button or issuing a military order. The envious contempt which university graduates are viewed by Sri Lanka’s military personnel who had not been to a university is well known. Thus, the question is, why have these military personnel as teachers to university students who view the world with objective reality rather than through the tunnel vision of a military mind.

Is this to stamp the superiority of the emerging military caste over intellectuals? Idle forces are now being asked to perform tasks in various fields which they were not trained for and most of the time not being capable of performing.

Soldiers as  farmers

At first they were given the task of cultivating vegetables and even marketing them. Growing vegetables would not have been something foreign, most of the rank and file being from farming families. But marketing even village produce requires special skills which we doubt our ‘war heroes’ ever acquired. A much more serious problem however arises with farmers if the armed services take to cultivation on  a vast scale. This would not only depress vegetable prices received by cultivators but could result in their produce being unsold.

It will also result in half starved farmers being kicked in their solar plexus – farmers who indirectly helped the government to collect revenue to keep the armed forces going by paying indirect taxes such as VAT for every item they purchase. A poor farmer with his unsold produce is likely to ask – is this justice? Once again we go back to the humour and wisdom of Groucho Marx:  Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.

Town Planners

Next the military think tanks take to town planning. To those with a fixed military mindset there is nothing as beautiful as military parade grounds or military compounds with neatly cut grass. So an attempt is made to beautify  Colombo, make it the Garden City of Asia. An easy move to achieve this objective is to breakdown all high walls surrounding compounds. This edict so far appears to apply only to state owned compounds but if it extends to privately owned property it would be a violation of the property rights of citizens. A citizen is surely entitled to his privacy and should be able to prevent peeping toms looking into his or her house and also prevent stray dogs from entering their compounds.

Right at the top

Is this creeping militarisation the result of maintaining an idle army and attempting to give them productive employment or to make the military caste the ruling class. Top jobs such as  ambassadorial  appointments are no longer for those in the foreign service but to the ‘war heroes’. Top schools are for their children. Look at the vehicles parked besides schools to pick up their darlings.